Why Manchester City will win the Premier League
Manchester City lost their unbeaten run in the Premier League against Chelsea recently, leading to questions whether they could retain their title. The Citizens should top the table given their form but Liverpool have been brilliant too. A second, even more unanticipated defeat, this time to lowly Crystal Palace at the Etihad, widened the gap between the defending Champions and the unbeaten Reds to four points. Andros Townshend's blind squirrel/acorn of a volley aside, experts may tip the Merseysiders Reds to win their first league title in 28 years but City will just about have it in them to defend their crown.
That's not to say it will be easy. No side has defended its Premier League crown this decade. The odds favour Liverpool not only for their lead and unbeaten status but also their exemplary defending. Seven goals conceded in 18 games is no mean feat in any era, let alone the freewheeling one in which we happily find ourselves. Liverpool will battle City pound for pound for the title race. It may go down to the final day.
However, City are a more compact, balanced team. Bad results happen to the best. It's just happened to Guardiola's side first. It will serve as a wakeup call. Prior to conceding three against Palace, the Sky Blues had only shipped ten themselves.
Kevin De Bruyne's return brings City's midfield back to full strength. His technique and vision raise their game to another level. Liverpool can only remain the same.
The season's second half is where the real battle always lies. Liverpool must rotate to prepare for a difficult Champions League tie with Bayern Munich. The Reds don’t have the legs to carry on at the top level. Their supporting cast have not gelled in the new system Jurgen Klopp employed to accommodate them. Fabinho and Naby Keita are not the finished product. Xherdan Shaqiri's brilliant form and stunning good fortune [two deflected goals after coming on against Manchester United in Jose Mourinho's final match] paper over the fine cracks in the Merseyside squad.
Squad depth will prove the difference. City have like-for-like replacements for players like De Bryune. Despite losing their top playmaker in August, Pep's team barely felt his absence when Bernando Silva moved to the inside. Riyad Mahrez then filled the right flank for the Portuguese.
If like-for-like isn't an option, Pep has a few tactical tweaks to throw at opponents. When Sergio Aguero was out injured and Gabriel Jesus firing blank, City employed Raheem Sterling in the middle as a false nine. City's first half was all about improvisation and adaption. That extra quality will edge it for the holders. Let's see Liverpool go three months without Mo Salah, Virgil van Dijk or, perhaps most dangerous of all, without Alisson Becker.
The Premier League is a long, hard road. It won't always be an easy ride for Klopp's challengers. While Manchester City already knows it can maintain a high level without a full squad, the Merseysiders are yet to be tested. When they are tested and pass, then I will believe but not before.